The economy has not been good to us the past several years. Your customers are taking longer to pay. How do you know when its time to turn a supplier/customer relationship into a creditor/debtor one? Here are some things to look for when deciding when its time to actively pursue your customer for a debt:

“The check is in the mail.” or “Send me the invoices again.”

These are responses that one frequently gets when one inquires about an outstanding invoice. When you hear either of these responses from your customer, it is unlikely that you are going to get paid without professional help. This may sound cynical. This author has no empirical proof that this is true other than his own experience.

The last check bounces

This is an excellent indication that professional help is needed to collect your debt, especially when the debtor gives you an excuse such as “the bank screwed up.” While this does happen once in a blue moon, it is not likely to be that phase of moon when it happens to you.

The last check is for only a part of what is owed

While your customer may be experiencing cash flow issues, if he only sends you a part of what is owed, your customer may be in trouble. If he had called you before sending you the check to work out a payment plan, you should feel far more comfortable with that sort of a partial payment than one that is unilaterally dictated to you by the customer.

The customer no longer takes your phone calls

Telephone is, by far, the most effective tool for collecting a debt, other than litigation. Nothing puts pressure on a customer to pay than repeated telephone calls and messages. When your messages go unanswered, you know you are going to have a problem collecting.

Your registered letters are returned unclaimed

Another effective technique for collecting money is sending a registered letter. This usually rattles a debtor because there is a stigma associated with sending a registered letter to a debtor. If the customer does not sign for the letter, this is proof positive that you are not going to get paid without professional help.

The customer now has objections to the goods or services delivered

Finally, it usually happens that when you finally get a hold of your debtor to make good on your invoice, he suddenly has all of these objections that he never communicated before. While there is probably nothing wrong with the goods or services that you delivered, the debtor just does not or cannot pay you immediately. Chances are that if you ask the customer to kindly return the specific goods to which he is objecting, he cannot. He probably already placed these goods into his general inventory. Your best bet is to press the customer for specific details including the shipment, and witnesses to the allegedly defective goods. You should then send him a confirming letter as soon as possible that identifies these goods. Ask for an opportunity to inspect these goods as well at his place of business as soon as possible. Again, chances are that when the customer is pressed for such details, he will have none to share with you. Be sure to communicate this in your confirming letter to the customer as well. This will avoid future problems if you have to sue this debtor to collect.


There is no substitute for watching your receivables and communicating with your customer. When you do these two things, all of the signs will be present to alert you when you have a problem customer on your hands. Do not disregard these signs and under no circumstances should you ever be afraid to ask for your money. If you are unable to obtain payment from your customer, you should then seek the services of a qualified collection attorney.

Kevin M. Taylor is an attorney that specializes in debt collection. He is the founder of Kevin M. Taylor, P.C., Collection Attorneys. Kevin M. Taylor, P.C. has been collecting debts for large and small business for the past 15 years. Kevin M. Taylor, P.C. is at 24901 Northwestern Hwy #306, Southfield, MI 48075. For more information call (248) 223-1999 or visit us at